The topic of face masks has been a popular one around the world and inside the United States. The question of which one is the best for protection against the coronavirus has been persistently on the news and online. People began to buy any type of face mask in bulk and wholesale, with the panic of the unknown in everyone’s mind.
Face masks with a valve have been popular as well, but many people don’t understand how they work and whether or not they’re effective for the pandemic. In this article, we’ll explain the science behind them, and which situations they can be used in.
COVID-19: a brief explanation
At the end of last year, in December, a new virus was discovered inside the coronavirus genus. The SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, since the SARS-CoV-1, another coronavirus, already existed) is the name given to this new virus, and it causes a respiratory disease that’s been named COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019).
The majority of the cases of COVID-19 are very mild respiratory illnesses that resemble the flu, with the most described symptoms being sore throat, fever, dry cough, and they can be accompanied by the loss of taste and smell. Many of these cases can even be asymptomatic as well, so the disease can go unnoticed in many cases. But, there are certain groups of people in which COVID-10 is much more severe.
The severity of the illness has been linked to the person’s age, with kids being the least affected ones by the disease. Older people, on the other hand, are highly vulnerable to developing a very severe form of the disease. Other people who are at risk of being affected by the illness are immunocompromised patients, people with diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, pre-existing lung conditions, or other organ failures. In them, COVID-19 can result in serious complications, like thrombosis, multi-organ failure, severe lung injury, or death.
While most cases aren’t severe and can even be asymptomatic, and the size of the portion of people who develop a more severe form is relatively small, it’s much more concerning when there are a lot of people infected at once. This leads to healthcare centers becoming overwhelmed and, eventually, collapsing, and it’s been seen happening around the world during the year. This is why the main focus has been on stopping the spread of the disease.
Asymptomatic carriers of the virus can still spread it and get other people infected without knowing it. This is why the use of any type of face-covering, whether it’s an N95 respirator, a KN95 mask, or a reusable cloth mask, with or without face shields, is important in public settings. This applies to everyone, including young people and kids above the age of 2 years old.
How do exhalation valves work?
With all the attention around N95 respirators, by now you’ve probably read or heard about all the reusable and disposable face masks available out there. From face shields, to KN95 masks, to 3M N95 masks like the 3M 8210 or 3M 8511, getting lost among all these new terms is very easy. But, one thing you probably don’t understand at all is the use of valves in face masks. What are they for?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that exhalation valves are placed in face masks to reduce breathing resistance. This means that it makes it easier for the wearer to breathe using the face mask. The accessory makes the face mask much more comfortable, making the wearer feel cooler wearing it, and lowers the moisture build-up in the face, which is particularly important for people using eyewear. But, these respirators are only recommended and safe to be used in very limited environments. Why is that?
When a person inhales through a respirator like the N95 respirator, they’re making the air go through the filter media, and therefore they only inhale filtered air without any harmful particles, like dust, smoke, or viruses like the flu. When the person exhales, the same thing happens to the air, releasing into the environment filtered air again, without any pathogen or dangerous particle.
In face masks with exhalation valves, the person inhales filtered air, but the air they exhale goes through the valve and isn’t filtered, therefore releasing pathogens that can be inside the fluids from the wearer’s airways. This is why the CDC states that masks with exhalation valves can only be used in environments where maintaining a sterile field isn’t important, including certain medical settings.
Are they effective for COVID-19 and other uses?
For the reasons we explained above, N95 masks and other face masks that contain an exhalation valve are not effective to stop the spread of the SARS-CoV-2. These valves are known as one-way-valves because the air is only filtered when it’s inhaled, while the air released through exhalation doesn’t go through the filter, and it reaches the environment with all the dangerous particles in it. The propagation of the coronavirus can happen easily if the public use these masks, therefore they’re not recommended for virus protection, since they don’t offer any antiviral properties.
As we explained, they can be used to protect against other particles like dust or smoke, and in situations where sterile fields are not important.
The USA and the world is going through a difficult time. Anyone who uses a face-covering is doing their part to help stop the spread of this virus, and there are many options available for sale in either online or physical stores. Make sure to stay protected in public settings with unvalved face masks.